Versatility & Adaptability. Contrast & Contradiction

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Interview that never made it to print...

Who runs your stage combat course? What is taught in it?
Scott Witt is a lecturer in Movement at NIDA.
"'Stage combat' makes up an important  portion within the movement program of the NIDA Bachelor of Fine Arts (Acting) course and is taught alongside  clowning, slapstick, mask and physical risk. This work is complemented by training the actors in various dance forms, acrobatic and aerial skills, along with a range of approaches to characterisation and ensemble movement. The stage combat training is an important part of the students' preparation for NIDA's bi-annual production seasons. 
The term 'stage combat' is in some ways a bit dated. The skills that are involved in fighting for stage and screen go way beyond learning how to throw a punch and falling. We are asking our students to take a deeper look at the movement and movement systems inherit in fighting and physical risk-taking. We delve deeply into what is transpiring biomechanically, physiologically and neurologically to the body so that actors can gauge how their system is reacting and responding. They are developing skills to ensure that at any given moment they are working from the frontal lobe – from a place of cognition rather than just reacting from a place of fear – and as such, become a much safer actor on a higher level that involves both the mind and the body.
The first year of training in stage combat is dedicated to physical risk. Students are taken through a process-based learning pedagogy that asks students to recognise potentially dangerous movement and choreography in order to develop strategies for self-assessment and risk management. They are also taught fundamental combat and slapstick principles and techniques. This may include, but is not limited to: strikes, rolling, falling, sword and blade work. All this work culminates in performing a fight scene in class at the end of the year.
Second year is dedicated to fighting for camera. It is designed to equip students with a variety of firearm/knife disarms: blocks, locks and hand-to-hand techniques. Students will discuss, learn and apply how best to 'work the lens' with combative techniques. All skills are designed for the modern actor working in film and television. This culminates in a seven minute action film.
Third year is dedicated to fleshing out more weapons to ensure that the actors are ready for the industry and can adapt their training to a variety of weapon systems that may present themselves on the job. Students also learn and perform a violent scene on screen in order to gain experience with a working stunt co-ordinator."

Monday, November 2, 2015

Love this...

Neuromuscular Efficiency refers to the method by which muscles strengthen due to changes at the neuromuscular junction. In other words, the muscle strengthens because the connection between the brain and the muscle improve.

The two main improvements that lead to increased neuromuscular efficiency are:
1. Muscle fiber recruitment: The central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) learns to recruit more muscle fibers in response to the challenge of lifting heavier weights.

2. Rate Coding: The central nervous system sends faster signals to the muscle fibers so they contract more quickly and more forcefully.

As neuromuscular efficiency improves, strength goes up. In fact, much of the initial strength gain during any program is due to neuromuscular efficiency and not increased muscle mass.

From -

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

physical read...

To help the reader gain insight to the point of this post, I need to explain what a ‘line read’ is for our non-theatrical folks. A ‘line read’ is when a director gives an actor a specific way of saying a line – usually because the actor is not saying the way the director wants - or the actor just doesn’t 'get' the way the line needs to be delivered. Either way, this leaves little or no scope for the actor to find her own way - and from my experience it generally ends up sounding inauthentic.

If we look at this ‘line read’ concept in terms of fight choreography, often a fight director will do a move for an actor (in order to demonstrate). We could therefore say a fight director is giving a ‘physical read’ of the choreography. I have witnessed many fight directors show off the moves they give their actors!

This brings me to the point of this post. I think as fight directors, we need to be careful with ‘physical reads’. My observation is that an actor usually tries to emulate the move the fight director has done and the negative affect is this: the actor usually has crafted (or by accident) a particular shape / skeletal structure for a character, even if no strong physical characterization has taken place. So an audience will have that shape in their mind’s eye, consciously or not. When the actor comes to the moment or moments where they have simply copied the fight director, there is a distinct shift in shape.

As a fight director, I will usually do one of two things:  move like the actor, or do it a little 'bad'. The logic of dumbing down the move (ie doing it a little badly) is that I want the actor to think, "I  don’t want to move like that, I can do it better." Hence, they will invest in the movement for themselves and not simply replicate me. They will make the move their own. I want my work to be invisible.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

teaching philosophy...

My teaching philosophy is founded on the premise of the interconnection of life, art and self. As practitioner and as a teacher I encourage young artists to continually develop their self-awareness and their understanding of how they are connected to others and their art.

My primary goal has always been to craft actors who are prepared to safely take themselves, their fellow actors, and their audiences to spaces that are physically demanding, risky and dangerous.  I hold the actor’s long term career in mind when guiding my students to these spaces: the actor’s body and mind need to work in harmony and be a sustainable instrument for as long as they work.

My secondary goal is to develop actors who can physically transform. Physical transformation is the ability of an actor to transcend her own physical shapes, habits and understanding of self. It is an essential skill for the actor to hone. Developing and crafting this skill will create a more diverse and complex performer.

Thirdly, I encourage a holistic quality to approaching the work. By the time a student graduates from an acting school, the individual disciplines of Movement, Voice and Acting will make up the trinity of their approach to developing a role. The craft of acting requires the actor to believe in a set of imagined circumstances from an imagined reality. Over time, the actor will develop a process of combining speech and physicality to build a role. The actor's process asks of the whole body. Movement, as I teach it, is not separate from Voice and Acting: a student in my movement training understands how these disciplines are inherently connected and related.

Movement for Actors is a highly organised, disciplined and integral part of an actor’s training. My teaching philosophy in the arena of Movement Studies is built upon on nearly thirty years’ of practical experience at an industry and institutional level. Upon graduation, actors I train will display qualities of pleasure, playfulness, expressiveness, responsiveness, balance, co-ordination, precision, efficiency, rhythm, endurance, humility, respect and discipline.

There are many styles and approaches to teaching movement. Ultimately, actors will always pick and choose from what they are taught and develop an individual style and meaning.  My journey has been no different. My personal development and training in the styles of Lecoq, Clowning, Western and Eastern Martial Arts, Viewpoints and other ancillary movement theories make up the DNA of my pedagogy. Over the course of my career, I have distilled techniques and approaches from these four major systems and integrated them into my own methodology. 

Exposure to Lecoq-based work has primarily taught me about curiosity, adaptation and failure. It has also allowed me to prize the questioning nature of work by students, which in turn opens up new responses in me. It is the student’s work that generates a ‘space’ that learning takes place in. In this regard, I do not give knowledge, but rather the student finds it in the work of the class. I often use the expression - I share mistakes rather than teach.

My Clowning education and practice has taught me humility and grace under adversity - and to always find the pleasure no matter the circumstances. This quality is at the heart of my work and is one that my students learn both explicitly and implicitly. My modelling of these qualities is an important part of what I can contribute to the students. It is important to me that in every class, I am, in every way, the practitioner that I am encouraging them to be.

My detailed and life-long pursuit and study of Martial Arts complemented by the Stage Combative Arts has instilled in me endurance and discipline, combined with an enormous respect for the space I am working in and the people around me. It has allowed me to understand how the body moves, functions and reacts under stress. Martial Arts also taught me to recognise when the mind and body are not working harmoniously. My students use this understanding to create a strong foundation in their approach to movement.

My experience with Viewpoints has provided me with a framework for creating a larger context for actors in terms of composition and movement in space. Particular key aspects of Viewpoints - Time, Space and Architecture - have chiefly resonated with me as I seek to provide actors with a sense of one’s self in space and the way in which one moves in space. 

My methodology is the engine behind my philosophy and goals in movement training. When working with actors, I continually draw on metaphors and correlations to buildings and constructions. The concepts and ideas of architecture and design - foundation, function, form, scaffolding, geometry, structure, and alignment - are strong images when deconstructing the actor’s instrument. It is only when a building weathers the pressure of a storm that the architect and engineer find out if the structure is sound. As such, my mantras as a highly physical performer myself are: Can this physical choice be sustained under the pressure of performance? Can I remain safe? Can I keep my fellow actors safe? Will the audience and crew be safe? How do I blend function and form?

I developed my approach to movement training over the course of my career, honing it year after year of training actors and working professionally, culminating in formalising my methodology through my MFA studies. My overarching methodology is upheld by two pillar concepts of Mind / Body Cohesion and Awareness.

Mind / Body Cohesion
Comprehension between the mind and body is paramount when teaching the use of the body as a tool for ‘movement’. My training necessitates that students became acutely aware of the relationship between all areas and functions of the brain and its essential role in the use of our bodies. This emphasis is to ensure that students gain a holistic approach to the understanding and use of their instrument. Often, due to a lack of experience in performance situations, young actors work from a place of tension – they operate in fight or flight mode. In short, my work is designed to bring the actor’s use of his frontal lobe into a place of mindfulness, thus allowing for some control of the fighting and flying response of the ‘reptile’ brain. This places the student in a cognitive state of learning and functioning and offers him some safety and control. In addition, I also work to raise students’ consciousness of the left and right side of the brain and the different functions they play. Linking the two hemispheres of the brain is the corpus callosum, the area of the brain that unlocks our ability to multi-task. The corpus callosum is key provider to overall cerebral organisation. During high levels of cognitive activity, the function of the corpus callosum seems to be one of ensuring the stability of stimulation and focus between the two halves of the brain. This in turn allows the brain to work in a holistic way and enables constant concentration throughout compound cognitive duties. By working and practising with this level of awareness in the classroom, the actor is developing an understanding of the use and function of the brain in relationship to her body. The actor is then creating from a place of calm, which allows for more truthful, honest, spontaneous and integrated work.

At its core, movement for actors is the study, observation, application and expression of human behaviour and gesture. Through our art, we gain insight into ourselves. Our artistic development can, if nurtured well, aid our personal awareness. An integral aspect of my movement training and teaching philosophy is to guide an actor’s awareness and understanding of his own instrument and his relationship to the space and the bodies around him. I emphasise kinaesthetic and proprioception skills as a way of ensuring that students move safely and with complete awareness of self and others in space.

Awareness and Mind / Body Cohesion make up the spine of my methodology because they ask of the actor to be consciously cognitive of his process and practice.

Underpinning my methodology are three core elements: Behaviour Studies; Fitness and Anatomy. These three elements are the foundations for the movement program that I envision. Through rigor and curiosity, students will gain an acute sense of their strengths and limitations under my tuition. The substance of all my movement training is conveyed through six carefully considered core exercises / games which have taken years to design, and were crystalized during my MFA studies and research. These exercises / games address twenty-four interwoven concepts that are intrinsically linked and layered though all the classes and disciplines I teach across a variety of areas:

1.       Chaos & Order
2.       Spirit & Energy
3.       Sensitivity & Listening
4.       Time & Space
5.       Structure & Alignment
6.       Function & Form
7.       Empathy & Harmony
8.       Patience & Understanding
9.       Versatility & Adaptability
10.   Truth & Logic
11.   Contrast & Contradiction
12.   Problem Solving & Multi-tasking

The development of any one individual student actor is a unique and extraordinarily personal journey. The student’s progress needs to take into account her strengths and weaknesses, and it requires a flexibility from me, as her teacher, to adapt to her growth. My belief is that a good teacher nurtures a student’s ability to express her creativity, and liberates her innovation and imagination. I carry these ideas with me on the floor, and it is important to me that I model to my students understanding, sensitivity, empathy, versatility, adaptability, tolerance and honesty. Preparing an actor for the industry takes a sensitive touch on the part of the teacher. Providing that guidance, from the first class to graduation, requires particular insight and great patience.

My teaching focuses on supporting the students’ understanding of how their ability to move well can interface with the technical and artistic demands of the industry as a business. Additionally, I encourage students to face themselves honestly and with open eyes. Walking alongside students as they confront their fears is part of my role, and requires me to travel that road myself. In this environment of care and trust, students find the space to grow through acceptance and examination of ‘failures’. Not all students possess the skill to see the matrix of learning and require assistance to help them see the whole picture. Part of my role is to teach students how to see and craft those connections. The diverse nature of my career has developed me into the teacher and practitioner I am today. It is what makes me unique. I believe that a movement teacher in today’s environment must be multi-skilled and adaptable.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

in the beginning...

It is worth noting that the approach I have developed for my career, and indirectly my career itself is a strong reflection of my up bringing. From my first years at school I was, or rather my family was always moving from town to town. In fact by the age of thirteen I had been to seven schools and on a few occasions I had returned to the same school on three occasions. The shortest length of time I spent at one school was six weeks and the longest was one year needless to say my father was an advisory teacher in the early 70’s which meant - where ever he went... we all went!

Not until the age of about 14 did my family finally stop in the one location and my schooling was able to finish with some consistency. My early years in life are ones of change, versatility and adaptability. In recent years I have come to realise that these early days of my development as a young child and adolescent have informed my life now as an adult, that is to say that I have subconsciously always sort to become adaptable and versatile at tackling my career.

I believe it is important to understand these two elements of my ‘make-up’, versatility and adaptability; as it has informed my development as well as fuelled my curiosity towards every aspect of my performance career. This, coupled with developing the ability to read people and fit in as quickly as possible, as a child, meant I was more than likely to build on my skills of ‘entertaining’ people in order to ‘fit in’ and move in to the entertainment field.

I have now been involved in many aspects of drama for nearly thirty years as a professional practitioner. Versatility and adaptability have proved to be the root of my career’s sustainability. I have chosen not to focus on just one area of this industry and as a result I have not had to rely on a supplemental job to support my career i.e. being a waiter. My choice to create a dexterous career has created so many opportunities I feel very lucky to always be in work.

those who came before us in this crazy slapstick world...

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

failing... unfinished thoughts...

Enjoy “failing”:-  is at the heart of what I do / teach, no matter if I am doing an acting class, clowning class, mask or stage combat class etc. Every class is an acting class and must directly relate to their (the students) overall approach to the ongoing development of their craft and more over must be seen to be of a direct asset to the tool kit – and in turn it needs to come from a place of ownership and deep joy and the ever evolving process of self discovery – actors need to own their work and discoveries... discoveries happen in that lovely place of "failing"... a state of here and now...

I have always wanted to get a shirt made up that say: One Day They Will Find Out I am Fraud!!! Because I not only; live in the “here and now”, but I surf the” here and now”!  A delicate blade of risk, an edge that I could fall on either side of, however I trust myself as an artist, I have to!  I too must "fail"... I never know what I am going to teach on the floor or what choices I will make on the floor (as an actor, director, fight director) – I have guide posts sure – but I need to see what is out there? What people / students need / want. Each new day brings a creative opportunity maybe that is all I am saying here – I am in a constant state; a creative state. A state that allows for healthy "failing"...